The beautiful body she provided is one of the foremost accomplishments of our age. It will be on display for the next six to eight weeks before traveling to the next destination on its multi-city tour, the goal of which is to provide inspiration to the public nationwide. Unlike most exhibits in our facility, her beautiful body will not be preserved behind glass: looking is, of course, encouraged, but don’t be shy about touching, too. The tactile experience of her body is a vital part of the educational process.
Observe, for example, the supple curve beneath her left breast. The skin there is soft and without blemish, covered in an almost transparent down, and remains hidden unless the breast is lifted. This is a gift that may have remained unappreciated—perhaps even undiscovered—without the enthusiastic exploration of our visitors and docents. Please try it. And have you run your fingers through her hair? It’s a bit sticky, as if she’s just come from a swim at the beach. Salt encumbering the smooth strands, twisting them into pretty ropes. If you scratch her scalp—yes, gently, like that—you might come away with a bit of sand beneath your fingernails. This is a benefit of visiting one of the earlier tour stops, like this one. Later on, there will be less sand available, and your ability to interact with her body will be diminished.
Although we are judicious about maintaining the integrity of the display, it isn’t our intention to worry over every small and natural degradation when preventing them might limit your enjoyment. In this spirit, there are glass bottles for sale in the gift shop, in which you can preserve any grains of sand you collect. Likewise, if a piece of her hair should come away in your fingers, you may thread this into the bottle as a keepsake.
Over time, her beautiful body will wear away back into nothingness, and this is all to be expected. There is no reason for you to be alarmed.
Let us turn now to her calf. We prefer not to investigate her body in any clear order during our tours—for instance, from top to bottom, or alternatively, bottom to top—because we want to encourage a kinetic and intuitive experience for our guests. Please let your inspiration be your truest guide. Now. If you lift her knee, you can see the calf from a better angle. Place the sole of her foot on the plinth to show off the changes to the leg’s musculature, and you’ll also create a jaunty tableau. Laughter is encouraged! Don’t be fooled by those who say there’s no place for humor or silliness in your experience of her beautiful body. When you place a hand on her belly and imagine the tiny fluttering of a hiccup, you might giggle or smile, and you should follow that impulse.
After all, what else is the purpose of her beautiful body, besides increasing the world’s happiness? Reach out and touch it. Run your thumb over the scar on her knee, and lift an eyelash off her cheek with the pad of your finger. Blow a kiss towards her face and turn her lips into a smile. When you hold yourself back you fail to respect the gift her body offers: its presence. Its excellence. The unmatched care that has been devoted to bringing it here, for you, today.
It’s true that there are some—you can read a placard describing their movement in the next hall, just past the restroom—who decry this exhibition, calling it an insult to the memory of her life. They say that she was a girl once, and then a woman, who woke up in the morning and drank coffee from a blue mug with a rabbit etched into the ceramic. They say she was a graphic designer who carried around an old laptop computer covered in stickers; a person who was clever with tactile chores, like knitting and gardening and mending small appliances with her at-home soldering kit. They ask their followers to picture a little blue flame at the end of a torch, melting together bits of metal. To imagine a pair of long needles and a skein of purple wool. Dirt and seeds and a vase of flowers. They say she sometimes forgot to change her bed sheets for over a month, so each night when she climbed under the covers a funk would escape up over the pillow, and over her head. She lit incense, so they say, to mask it.
Have you noticed a pattern in these details? Yes. They are just things. Objects that she purchased and made use of, then eventually threw away. These people and their movement claim to revere life in its fullest sense, but when asked what it is they value so highly all they can come up with is a list of tchotchkes. Concert T-shirts and chewed-up pens, notes scratched off on blue stationery, and the key to an old Volvo with the paint peeling off of the roof. These, they say, are proof of her person, her individual greatness. But this, if you’ll permit us to speak plainly, is a simple, capitalist lie. It is obscene.
Look again at her calf. When you move the knee back and forth, she could be sitting at the end of a dock and kicking her toes into an onrushing wave. You can see the motion of her tendons, tightening. Skin moving against the shinbone, stretching where it’s met with force. You can see the continuity of her complexion, how it’s whole and unbroken from the rough sole of her heel to the round of her shoulder, despite the occasional mole or blemish. No tan lines, no sunspots. There are stories in her beautiful body. A girl jumping off a low cliff with her friends, screaming all the way down until they hit the water in the quarry. Growing pains waking her up at midnight as her hips shift into their final, womanly form. The feeling of everything clicking into place as she kicks into the fastest sprint she’s ever run, placing first in the final heat of a regional track meet. Or maybe she achieved this speed while jogging through a college campus, running to cross the tracks before a train came by: a completely personal, undocumented victory, written only here, in her limbs.
We encourage you to spend some time with her teeth. Draw back the lips and count them, pushing a finger into her cheek as if taking a swab of DNA. See if you can identify which of her teeth have undergone dental work, first by sight and then with your eyes closed using only your sense of touch. This project was conceived by one of our docents after having a cavity filled, when he noticed the shape of his newly adjusted molar no long fit the mental map he’d always known. If his mouth could become alien, he realized, perhaps her mouth could become familiar.
The goal of this exercise is to compare your teeth to hers, and see if you can imagine them into your mouth and under the pressure of your tongue. Start with shape, texture, spacing. Are her incisors pointier than yours, or blunter? Does she have a clean bite like your own, or a snaggle tooth, perhaps up front and to the right? If you fitted this tooth into your jaw, would it still possess that charming tilt, the slant that makes such an interesting indentation in cream cheese? Now open your eyes. Take a peek and check your work, making note, too, of the coloration you see. Can you tell if she wore a retainer or took milk in her tea, based on the stains to her enamel? Can you tell what she liked, which flavors made her smile, whether she ever bit into a cherry and chipped a molar on the pit?
A note: the teeth have been glossed and polished to offer the illusion of saliva, though her mouth is now, in fact, quite dry. We understand this might make you uncomfortable. A mild non-toxic lubricant can be provided upon request.
Another note: it breaks our heart to see any visitor waste their opportunity to spend time with her beautiful body. This is a once-in-a-lifetime gift, an achievement of social and moral significance, and once her beautiful body leaves for the rest of its tour, it will not be coming back. Please think about this. Recently a number of activists have made their way into our tour groups, and though they are most often benign in their demonstrations—a question or two that feels a bit pointed, an opinion too much on-the-nose—they do occasionally cause problems. Once, during the last tour of the day, a guest tried to cut off all the body’s hair with a pair of scissors smuggled under their shirt, and had to be restrained by several security guards. A few days later, a group of three visitors became so agitated by our refusal to “see their side” that they ended up screaming in our faces and ruining the tour for everyone else.
As you know, tickets are available only by lottery, and so the appearance of activists in the exhibition hall indicates that other, sincere guests were refused entry. This would be an acceptable loss—why not try to illuminate the activists? Inform them?—except for the fact that the activists often don’t look at her body, not even once. Sometimes they only become aware that it’s there if they bump into it while being hurried from the room, as if, before that moment, they believed her body was only an idea. An insult not just to the visitors who were disappointed, but to her body itself, which has been so graciously provided to us here.
The point being: if you see something suspicious or feel at all threatened, please alert a guide immediately. We’re all here to improve your experience and make you feel safe.
Let’s return to something nicer. At this point we’re going to offer you a rare treat: it’s time to turn her beautiful body over so that the curves remain luxurious from all angles. Usually we conduct this maintenance after visitors have departed, but today we’re offering an inside look at our preservation work, as part of an ongoing effort to demystify the labor involved in a project of this scale. As a bonus, we’ll also be able to choose a new position for her, so please don’t be shy if you have an idea. We will, of course, encourage your participation, if you’re so inclined: first, one of you should grip her body by the shoulder, while someone else gets the hips and the feet. It’s also helpful to have someone stationed at the head so her body doesn’t end up with the face crushed down, but instead is positioned with the neck tilted either to the left or the right, whatever your preference. Yes, turn her. Be gentle. Someone on the other side should be ready to catch her as the weight of her body pulls her over—it can happen quite suddenly, the way you fall asleep after hours of fidgeting and snapping awake.
Her spine—we recommend running your fingers over it, starting from her tailbone, all the way to the knob at the base of her neck. There are dimples in her back, shallow canyons that denote the space between each precious rib. With a little effort you can work your fingers beneath the ribcage and feel it, briefly, from the underside. Start to parse the layer of mammalian fat from the skin and the meat, feel where you can scrape against the bone. It’s nice, too, to brush her hair over her shoulder and imagine her playing peek-a-boo with it, having a little joke, perhaps on a sunny day in the spring.
You can see it, we assume. Her face lifting towards the light. One hand resting on her knee, her chin on her shoulder, squinting against the glare. Inside her stomach, perhaps, a cup of coffee and a chocolate croissant melting together and doing the work of sustenance. Energy buzzing beneath her skin, and one toe twitching in her shoe.
A few of you have asked what her name was, and our disappointment must be noted. The question is—underwhelming. Misguided. Can you see a name written on her fingernails, or underneath her tongue? (We’ve moved on from dental work, but open her mouth and you can lift her tongue with ease. See how it feels, a surprisingly robust muscle, the taste buds sharp and oddly firm. If you’ve ever had a meal of calf’s tongue, this will be an uncomfortable experience, as you will not be able to forget the feeling of stabbing in your fork and knife, sawing off a little bit to put in your mouth. Chewing. Swallowing.) The real accomplishment of her body is not in abstraction: it is practical, physical. Was her name a part of the oxygen she drew into her lungs? Or in the sex she had, the cataclysms that rippled through her from within? In the truest moments of a person’s existence, we would argue their name is not evoked, but erased. None of her bones ever needed a name to grow in its correct direction.
She has such beautiful hair. Stringy, yes, but made that way by oceanic silt. She has freckles scattered across her nose and breastbone, the kind that come not just from the sun but from within: the needs of her cells made manifest. Looking again at her fingernails, it’s fascinating to think they might someday crack under the pressure of so much public adoration; that they could be subject to the same laws as all matter, falling apart in their own time. From the beginning it’s been the goal of our technicians to keep her nails round and short, unpretentious, and to this end they file and polish them whenever they begin to show wear. But there’s only so much you can file away before there’s nothing left. Maintenance becomes disintegration. Disintegration is shown to be an inevitability.
Perhaps you’re aware that there’s still some argument in the medical community about whether selfhood exists in the body or mind. Which—we find the notion understandable if you view her mind as being a part of her brain, which is inside her body. If you think about the way that experience is triggered electrically, with neurons telling her lungs to inflate and her eyelids to blink, her bladder to release as necessary. Still, we don’t like it. You cannot convince us that her body, here and now, does not contain the seed of true greatness; cannot tell us, in any serious way, that her body could be improved by something so intangible and distant as consciousness.
It has, already, everything it needs to produce desire; to compel new life into existence, or to take it out again. All that it needs to run across the beach and kick up hot sand in sheets and waves, burning slightly on the sole of the foot and the pad of the toe. Everything necessary to plunge into cold water and begin to float. You can see that in her. You can touch it with your hands. You can feel opportunity beat in her limbs as sure as you can feel your own heart, pumping blood.
We can promise you this: the beautiful body that she provided will be given the admiration it’s due. That is our mission. That is our gift. She could not have dreamed this for herself, which is why we dreamed it for her: to live forever, or at least for now, in the minds of thousands of daily guests. Delighted in hourly. Worshipped, if we may be so bold. We made a display of the best this world has to offer, in order that the world should never forget. Her thighs, her knuckles, her ears, her chin. Her beautiful body, which is an homage to the past, and just as importantly, a beacon to the future. A glimmer of possibility, in the distance, for all the beautiful bodies yet to come.